Special Edition # 30
Even though Laurence Boyce is getting ready to visit a mass of summer music festivals, he’s still ploughing through all the latest DVDs as Special Edition # 30 amply illustrates. This time around: Clint Eastwood impresses, someone actually makes a sequel to Donnie Darko and – as always – there’s a little bit of old school Doctor Who.
Even though he’s heading towards his 80s, Clint Eastwood still radiates an on-screen toughness that the current crop of young movie stars wished they possessed. From the Eastwood stare that would repel an army to the craggiest features this side of the Grand Canyon, you get the impression that if you even dare suggest that he’s knocking-on then he’ll be knocking you out. In Gran Torino (Warner Home Entertainment) he plays up his persona to the hilt as a retired Detroit autoworker who sits on his porch and watches the world change around him. Suffice to say he does not believe the changes are for the better. So when an Asian family moves next door, you can imagine how happy Walt is. But, surprisingly, his attitude begins to change when he befriends the young Hmong boy Thao. This is clichéd as they come, with Nick Schenk’s script full of platitudes about acceptance and tolerance that really only exist within the realms of Hollywood. But, thanks mainly to Eastwood (as both director and actor) and an earnestness to proceedings, it just about works. From Eastwood’s foul mouthed tirades (“Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have fucked with? That's me,”) to his gradual thawing, this is a film that is entertaining thanks to the genius of Clint. And you can’t help but feel that, if you don’t watch the film, he’ll turn up at your house to kick your ass. The disc comes with a bunch of manly extras about cars. Nice to see they’re making DVD extras just to keep Jeremy Clarkson happy.
Speaking of tough men you can also get your fill of action in The Punisher: War Zone (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) that sees the comic book vigilante kill people. And, erm, that’s about it really. This is a cold and charmless affair with Ray Stevenson sleepwalking his was way through his role as the titular anti-hero and Dominic West snarling as disfigured villain Jigsaw. Action fanatics may just about get their fill but you can safely give this a miss. The same goes for The International (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), which sees Clive Owen and Naomi Watts go up an international arms ring. There are a few impressive action scenes on offer here, but it’s the kind of film that’s been done one hundred times and offers little new to the genre. If you’re in need of a bit of a no-brainer action, then this should be fine to stick on in the background but if you're expecting anything a little more substantial then you should go search elsewhere.
Steven Soderbergh's epic Che: Parts 1 & 2 (Optimum Home Entertainment) sees Benicio Del Toro give a powerful performance as the one of the world’s most famous revolutionaries. The film is certainly an eye-opener for those who merely see Che Guevara as a poster for student walls, with Soderbergh telling an intense story of the rise and fall of an individual whose complexity has often been ignored by history. The first half follows Che just before he enters Havana whilst the latter half sees Che’s disastrous attempt to incite revolution in Bolivia. The two films are very different with first being a lyrical examination of Che’s life with the second being a more raw and urgent exploration of how actions reverberate throughout history. It’s certainly worth setting aside some time and watching both films at the same to truly appreciate the scale of Soderbergh’s vision and Del Toro’s towering portrayal. There are times when the film becomes muddled (especially in deciding whether it wants to present Che as real person or as a historical icon) but, even with these flaws, there’s much to get out of these films.
There are three certainties in life. One: death. Two: taxes. Three: if a movie is even vaguely successful then you can bet that there’ll be a crappy straight to DVD sequel. Marvel at Cruel Intentions 2! Relive the 80s in The Lost Boys: The Tribe! Wish sterilisation had prevented the rest of the numerous Children Of The Corn movies! Now you can add s.Darko (Lionsgate) to the list. Billed as ‘A Donnie Darko Tale’, it follows on from Richard Kelly’s cult classic by telling the story of Donnie’s sister. Like her brother, Samantha Darko is receiving strange prophecies about the end of the world. Unlike her brother, she seems to spend a lot of time in her underwear for no apparent reason. A convoluted mish-mash of ideas, this is a cheap rip-off that takes some of the more intriguing ideas of the original and then messes them up entirely. Chris Fisher’s direction is pedestrian, and the actors are a bunch of pretty boys and girls who seem to have got their parts due to having perfect teeth. This is cult cinema that has been stripped of anything remotely approaching invention and wit and dumbed down to appeal to teenage fans of ‘The OC’ and ‘One Tree Hill’. It will probably do very well. Of course, if you want a sequel/re-imagining that will truly boggle the mind then I would suggest having a look right HERE.
If you want to discuss the weather with David Lynch, then he’ll be effusive and willing talker (and, if you not sure what I’m talking about then go HERE to find out). Ask him about his movies and he’ll more than likely clam up. Lynch (One) (Scanbox Entertainment) is perhaps the closest we’re ever going to get into discovering the creative process of one of cinema’s enigmatic directors. Following him from the start of work on Inland Empire, the film takes in his thoughts on celluloid versus digital, his travels in Poland and his fascination in transcendental meditation. Whilst the revelations from Lynch are illuminating, it’s the aesthetic style of the documentary that is also engrossing. Taking a cue from Lynch’s oeuvre, we skip between black and white and colour with a surreal soundtrack that gives the entire film an ethereal air. If you’re expecting a, pardon the pun, straight story then this is not going to be for you as Lynch can prove to be a master of obfuscation even when the cameras are on him. But he does reveal more than he ever has before. Some of it may even be true. Whilst you’re there you can also pick up Dumbland (Scanbox Entertainment) Lynch’s animation series first shown on his website. Written, directed, animated and voiced by Lynch himself this a mutant ‘King Of The Hill’ that focuses on the crude Randy and his violent ways. From the opening episode (in which Randy gets his neighbour to admit that he’s a “one-armed duck fucker,”) the tone is established with primitive animation and a raw sense of humour, As strange – and disturbing – as the show often is, there’s still interest to be had with Lynch’s interest in duality and the viciousness of human nature coming through in spades. A curious but entertaining addition to Lynch’s canon.
There’s more documentary with elusive subjects in Marlene (Park Circus), Maximillian Schell’s Oscar nominated film about Marlene Dietriech that is as much about the process of making a documentary as the career of its subject. Dietrich refuses to be filmed, leaving Schell to play a taped interview over increasingly impressionistic representations of Dietrich’s work. As the film goes on – with Dietrich seemingly delighting in playing mind games - Schell becomes increasingly frazzled as his portrait begins to turn into something of a battle ground. But even though Dietrich is rude, boorish and ready to dismiss the majority of her interlocutor’s questions, there are moments when the mask slips as she reveals her true feelings for the likes of Welles, von Sternberg and admits “I wasn’t erotic: I was snotty,”. A compelling film about one of cinema’s most uncompromising talents. Also look out for Requiem For Billy The Kid (Park Circus) in which Kris Kristofferson (reprising his role from Sam Peckinpah’s films) narrates the legend of the outlaw. Did Pat Garrett really kill Billy The Kid, or did he live to fight another day? With some stunning landscapes and a fondness for Rimbaud’s poetry, this is a refreshing look at one of America’s most enduring myths.
Special Edition has always applauded the BFI for its sterling work in bringing little regarded British films back to prominence and is clapping once again thanks to the descision to release the superb This Filthy Earth (BFI). Andrew Kötting’s second feature, after the sublime Gallivant, is based upon both Emile Zola’s 'The Earth' and John Berger’s' Pig Earth' and tells the story of two sisters who become divided when those who are determined to get their hand on their land begin to drive a wedge between them. Whilst there’s a strong script from Kötting and co-writer Sean Lock, it’s the visuals that really set this film apart. This is rural life presented in all its mud, blood and dirty glory. Yet, even though the film can be both brutal in both aesthetic and its judgement on human greed, this is still an inherent beauty here and admiration for the work ethic that is a part of many rural farming communities. Honest, raw and passionate this is quite unlike any British film made over the past few years and is worthy of re-discovery. Also look out for Anchoress (BFI), Chris Newby’s sensitive portrayal of a girl who devotes her life to prayer after claiming to see the Virgin Mary. With some outstanding performances from the likes of Christopher Eccleston and Pete Postlethwaite, and some outstanding cinematography, the film is not only a subtle examination of the tension between religious devotion and community responsibility but also a dazzling evocation of the 14th century.
Viva (Nouveaux Pictures) is both a ridiculously accurate homage to the Sexploitation films of the 1970s and a convincing examination of the sexual revolution. Anna Biller directs and stars (and does the art direction and costume design) as Barbi who, as usual in these types of films, is neglected by her husband. Soon she discovers the pleasures of swinging and plunges headlong into an adventure of sexual discovery. Very much a one-woman show thanks to Biller the film offers a balance between showing acres of skin and providing and even-handed examination of the both the joys and constraints that the sexual revolution offered to women. As much an art piece as a genre parody, this transcends it’s origins to become a fun and informative film.
Given the current heatwave, Hardware: Special Edition (Optimum Home Entertainment) is something of a prescient film. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which temperatures soar, the film sees a soldier bring a dismantled robot back from the desert. The trouble starts when the robot re-builds itself and begins a murderous rampage. One of the most successful independent British films of all time, this is an innovative (though based on a 2000AD comic entitled Shok!, that comes with the disc) and wonderfully arid affair that offers a down and dirty sci-fi experience. With cameos from the likes of Iggy Pop and Lemmy, Richard Stanley’s film is great to see in its UK DVD Premiere. The film also comes with an interesting commentary from Stanley and producer Paul Trijbits and deleted scenes.
An up-to-date British indie feature in Bigga Than Ben (High Fliers) about two Russian immigrants who find themselves in London determined to make their fortune. They soon realise that if they really want to live the high life then they need to resort less legal means to earn money. This is an uneasy blend of comedy and drama but there’s a wonderfully hard edge to proceedings and the evocation of 21st Century London is excellently realised. There are quite a few flaws here but SA Halewood’s debut promises a talent to watch out for in the future.
Onto TV now as the Dwarfers make it back in Red Dwarf: Back To Earth (2 Entertain). When it was first announced that the sitcom would make it back for three episodes financed by TV channel Dave, some were worried that it was all going to be a bit flat. But, on the strength of this, there was not much to be worried about. With some quality CGI, and a central cast that slip easily back into their roles, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. There are some problems with the script (an extended Blade Runner parody) as it starts to run out of steam and Claudia Winkleman’s role as new crew-member Katerina Bartikovsky is woefully underwritten. But fans should be caught up in the fact that everyone is clearly having fun and it shows that there’s clearly life in the old crew yet. Unsurprisingly, there’s lot of extras here including commentaries, deleted scenes and outtakes.
Finally, there’s Doctor Who – The War Games (BBC DVD) that sees Patrick Troughton play the time lord for the final time. Here, The Doctor – alongside companions Jamie and Zoe – encounter a planet in which soldiers from Earth are kidnapped to fight for the pleasure of an evil tyrant. Needless to say, The Doctor is there to stop them. It’s always been popular amongst fans thanks to a number of firsts including the first mention of ‘time lords’, and the first appearance (as a drawing at least) of Jon Pertwee as The Doctor. So, will those discovering Troughton’s ‘cosmic hobo’ for the first time be enamoured? Well, at 10 episodes it does start to drag but with good performances from the likes of Philip Madoc and a strong central idea it holds the interest. Comes with commentaries and the usual raft of extras.
Special Edition will be back in a few weeks. Wait in breathless anticipation….